Racing NSW announced last week a significant prize money boost to country carnivals and their feature events.
Wagga, Albury and Gundagai have been beneficiaries of the increase with the Albury Turf Club and Murrumbidgee Turf Club now boasting two separate $200,000 feature events.
Most notably, the Wagga Gold Cup and Wagga Town Plate are races carrying the hefty prize pool; events that had already been widely regarded on the country racing calendar.
Gundagai and Adelong Racing Club have also seen the benefit with the Snake Gully Cup now worth a staggering $100,000, a 30% increase on its 2018 prize pool.
Despite the increase in prize money, there is a concern that it could push smaller trainers out of these time-honoured meetings with the large pools attracting city class trainers and horses.
Tumut trainer Kerry Weir was appalled by the decision.
“It is probably the worst thing that’s happened to the industry for a long time,” he said.
“It’s not going to benefit us country trainers one little bit.”
Weir went on to explain why country trainers would be pushed out of the bigger meeting.
“The top trainers and their good horses will come down and win them all,” he said.
“I’d be surprised to see a Wagga horse in the Town Plate this year.”
Gundagai strapper Michelle Russell echoed Weir’s sentiment.
“While I think it is great, I do have my concerns over the impact on local trainers,” she said.
“More city horses will come and it will be hard for a country horse to get a start.”
Russell believes the administrative body needs to invest in grassroots racing.
“Racing NSW need to put money into the smaller clubs throughout the year and give trainers and owners of country horses a chance to run for more money,” she said.
“Look at the city, they struggle for nominations but Gundagai the other day had heaps left over – why not reward the clubs who attract the horses?”
“Even the picnics could benefit from more support.”
Gundagai and Adelong Race Club secretary Len Tozer feels for local trainers but believes it is an unavoidable side effect.
“For a race to be worth $100,000 you would expect to see a variety of city trainers in attendance,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the downside to that is the impact on country trainers and there is nothing we can do for those races specifically.”
Tozer did explain how the club would support country trainers through the carnivals though.
“There will be one or two races for horses that are trained in the country – one of those is the country maiden for example,” he said.
Murrumbidgee Turf Club’s CEO, Steve Keene was another that could empathise with country trainers and was trying to mitigate these concerns throughout the remainder of the year.
“While it will be harder for country trainers to have their horses compete in these rich events, we at the Murrumbidgee Turf Club have bonuses going all year round that give back to owners and trainers,” he said.
“Our Wagga Stayer Series and Battlers Cups are perfect examples, not often would a country class horse run in a race worth nearly $25,000.”
It will remain to be seen how these races will unfold in the future and if the increase in prize money will actually draw trainers from Sydney and Melbourne.
One way to potentially lessen the impact on country horses is having events at these same carnivals that carry increased prize money but only allow country horses to enter.
This would only attract a wider range of trainers, owners and horses and in turn more supporters for these already popular meetings.